Story by Jody Robbins
Vacay.ca Family Travel Columnist
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — School may be back in session around North America, but that doesn’t mean family getaways are going to be on hold. If you’re in British Columbia, the provincial capital is a relaxing ferry ride away from the mainland and offers several activities that can be enjoyed all year.
Despite its reputation as a haven for the newly wed and nearly dead, this lush city is also ideal for young families. With abundant gardens, enticing pebbly beaches, and loads of kid-approved attractions, families will have no trouble navigating through Canada’s westernmost metropolis. Here is my list of Victoria’s top five family-friendly spots you don’t want to miss.
The crown jewel in Canada’s City of Gardens has to be this National Historic Site that’s been blooming strong for more than 100 years. I know what you’re thinking — major snooze-fest, right? Wrong. Kids eat up wide-open spaces, and few can say no to a ride on the handcrafted carousel inside the Children’s Pavilion. Let them loose with a camera, and a mission (snap the biggest rose, the tallest tree), and you’ll all enjoy a relaxing stroll throughout this botanical paradise that’s a 25-minute drive outside of Victoria.
Admission: $30.20 for adults during peak periods (the rate drops to $19.55 from November 1-30); entry is free for kids four years and younger. Visit the gardens’ rates page for full prices.
Location: 800 Benvenuto Avenue, Brentwood Bay, BC
Contact: 1-250-652-5256 or toll free at 866-652-4422; www.butchartgardens.com
Parents are used to supervising goat rodeos, but when they contain actual goats, it’s an opportunity few can afford to miss. Simply mosey over to this massive park set along the shores of the Juan de Fuca Strait, and watch the goats stampede from barn to pen as the petting zoo opens and closes each day. Besides making friends with the livestock, dive into the water play area and try to find the world’s tallest totem pole. After play time, head over to nearby Pizzeria Prima Strada on Cook Street for savoury thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas.
Admission: By donation
Location: The park borders James Bay to the south, Douglas Street to the west, Cook Street and Heywood Avenue to the east, and Southgate Street to the north.
Not only is this one of Canada’s top-rated museums, it also interests all ages. Before entering, wee-ones can play hide-and-seek through the towering totem poles while weary parents soak up sunshine and views of the city’s sparkling Inner Harbour. Famed for its archives and exhibitions of natural and human history, the museum has enough stuffed critters to give a taxidermist a meltdown (score bonus points for spotting ones that don’t exist anymore). If you can swing it, head here on the last Sunday of the month for crafts and kid-friendly tours.
Admission: $15.75-$21.60, kids five-years and under get in free.
Location: 675 Belleville Street, Victoria, BC
Contact: 1-250-356-7226 or toll free at 1-888-447-7977; www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca
4. Feeding Seals in Oak Bay
This seaside village a few minutes outside of the downtown core is ideal for families looking for a laid-back attraction-free day. Head to the Oak Bay Marina where you can gaze at the sailboats and buy frozen fish to feed the resident seals who linger along the dock. Make a day of it and stroll from the marina to Willows Beach, where the tykes can burn off energy in the shaded playground or the shallow waters of the Salish Sea. Nab fish and chips wrapped in newsprint from Willows Galley on the corner of Estevan and Dunlev, and turn your outing into a picnic.
Directions from downtown: Head east on Johnson Street away from the Inner Harbour. Johnson Street turns into Pandora Avenue and then Oak Bay Avenue, leading you to Beach Drive, where you will make a right to find the marina.
5. Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress
You can’t visit a city said to be more English than the English without indulging in a century-strong Victorian tradition. Kids will love getting their own Prince and Princess tea, choosing their own blend before vacuuming up mini scones, cookies, and finger sandwiches. If they don’t polish off the entire lot, treats can be taken home in a doggie bag, and save room in your suitcase for the certificate presented at the end of service, which confirms the tots have taken tea.
Hours: Tea Service begins at 11:30 am daily with the last seating at 4:45 pm.
Price: $59.95 per person, kids 12 years and under receive 50% off.
Location: 721 Government Street, Victoria
Contact: 1-250 384 8111; www.fairmont.com/empress-victoria
[box_light]More Vacay.ca coverage: Read “Nothing Is Finer than Tea at the Empress”[/box_light]